As the baseball aficionado (classy way for saying “nerd”) that I am — and we all are here at Through the Fence Baseball — I was reading the greatness of Baseball America the other day when I strolled upon “2014 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects: The 25th Edition.”
In that austere list of the hottest minor league players coming up to the bigs, I noticed the Chicago Cubs have five of the top 40 players.
I know, right? The Cubs! That’s one of eight for you math majors out there. And that’s awfully impressive. Yet, if you ask true Cubbies fans, like our very own R. Lincoln Harris of “Addison St. Blues” fame, they will all agree the club will still find a way to suck the green life off the outfield ivy at Wrigley.
And why? The organization as a whole, which gave me my muse for the next edition of “The Hit List“: 10 best baseball franchises going today. BTW, this is not an opinion piece. As with most “Hit Lists,” this is a good amount of due diligence based on farm systems, division leadership, attendance, prospects, trades, GMs and ownership.
Still think your club will make the list?
10. Cincinnati Reds. Think about any free agency deals. Hot-stove talk. Midseason blockbusters. When is Cincinnati ever in the headlines? Yet, come postseason, there they are. This is a team of talent with Votto, Cueto, Phillips, Bruce and its speed demon, Hamilton. Somehow, they have cultivated talent and competed in the NL Central since 2010. Oh, and why they don’t trade, deal or break the bank much? Farming. Their minor-league system is usually near the top, and the boys in Louisville usually end up in the bigs quickly (like the aforementioned Hamilton). In fact, last year, more than half of its team came from crops management plucked from the farm system. That’s always a winning recipe in this game.
9. New York Yankees. I know, I know. Nonetheless, you tell me how they are always near the top of the majors in everything. I love seeing them slump (Texas Rangers affiliation and homerism aside), but that is only because they rarely do. Sure, the Steinbrenner family has more money for nose tissue than Trump puts in his mattress, but someone in that baseball franchise knows what he is doing. Since 2005, nine winning seasons, seven postseason appearances and one World Series. Brian Cashman understands what it takes to win — and it’s not just spending the boss’ cash, because don’t look now, but they are leading the AL East. You know? Again. Sigh.
8. Atlanta Braves. For anyone who doubts the greatness of the Braves, just look at that upper deck of Turner Field sometime. That’s 16 playoff appearances since 1991, and 14 division titles — in a row! And how? Here’s a hint: It’s not because of payroll. This is a team that has matured success and knew where to go get it. Sure, we are past the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz days of yesteryear, but don’t sleep on what they have today. Heyward, Freeman, Gattis and Kimbrel mowing everyone down. The fans appreciate good baseball, and they have had years of practice to appreciate what that looks like, whether that is in the ’90s or today.
7. San Francisco Giants. No, I’m not talking about Captain Cream-and-Clear. Despite his
injections … eh, heroics, this is a great team. What else does two rings in four years tell you? Although some think the Giants are a roller-coaster baseball franchise, when they win, they’re unstoppable. On one hand, they average 90 wins a season and can’t be beat in the postseason. On the other, the Giants have earned five sub-.500 seasons since 2005. The Giants grow their own, know who to keep and, most importantly, who to leverage for extra assistance. Which would you rather have? Your team or two rings in four years? Scoreboard.
6. Detroit Tigers. Ownership went the cheap route and lured a few names like Rogers, Farnsworth, Scherzer, Peralta and this Cabrera character, whoever the hell he is. Dave Dombrowski should have been fired in the early oughts, but ownership stayed true and now look at him run that team. This is one of the best teams in baseball, and most of it happens in Motor City, which is saying something in itself. More than 15 players on a 40-man roster have been drafted and groomed in the Tigers farm system. That’s the definition of a baseball franchise — weather the storm when it’s pouring and stay in the sun to enjoy the tan. Fans love them. And now baseball does, too. (Oh yeah, and Verlander. He’s one of the best and dates Kate Upton, so there’s that, too.)
5. Oakland As. All right, all those who saw the movie “Moneyball” raise a hand? Read the book (one of the best ever in MLB)? None of that helps baseball fans understand the greatness of this ball club. Oakland is a baseball franchise that continues to defy the odds because it has consistently groomed its own. Its farm system is never deep because talent is like cream on a fine soup — it rises to the top quickly. And in a league where pitching is becoming king again, Oakland is the shopping mall of the country. For that reason alone, not to mention 90+ wins the last two years, this team deserves serious consideration and respect.
4. Tampa Bay Rays. Not one baseball franchise does more with less than the team from the Trop — that stinkhole cesspool of baseball. This team deserves so much more, both in an owner and a park. That notwithstanding, as many big-league contracts as the Rays avoid signing, the club always manages to get the best from its players (thanks largely to its wine-swilling manager). Remember when the AL East was nothing but the Sox and Yanks? The Rays have delivered five straight seasons of postseason ball including two AL East titles, one ALCS appearance and a World Series nod. And then wait for its farm system to come up from the iconic Durham Bulls. The next few years only look better … and cheaper. Take that Sox and Yanks!
3. Texas Rangers. Some say it’s Wash. Others say it’s J.D. Everyone thinks it was Nolan. Whoever is responsible for it, one thing is clear — the Texas Rangers have hit elite status because of a collection of everything. Constant sellouts. A winning product on the field that has seen three playoff births and two World Series appearances (and one friggin’ should-have-won) in the last four years. Ask anyone in the league and they will tell you Texas is all about player development. That is seen vividly through one of the top farm systems in the league for the past decade. The Rangers are for real — from single-A to the bigs. Really good, I’m proud to say.
2. Boston Red Sox. Man, when the curse falls, it makes a thud, huh? The Red Sox have been the perennial baseball franchise for decades, and that’s when they sucked. Now, they have won three rings and tons of respect. And with what? Talent and trades. Fans trust the Red Sox management because they have consistently proven that patience really is a virtue — and one not to discount. Another great thing about the Red Sox is the fans’ understanding of those trades because many of them were to beef up the farm system, and they get applauded for that. Seriously? Patience in baseball. Who woulda thunk it?
1. St. Louis Cardinals. Who didn’t see this coming? For decades, St. Louis has been one of the best baseball towns in the country because of respect for the game. The fans have it. The players show it. The management earns it. And the game is rewarded for it. In 10 years, the Cardinals have been to the postseason seven times and won two World Series. And then, they get rid of Pujols and Beltran. Then what happened? They won and the fans thanked the team. Their rotation gets in jeopardy. No problem? Call the farm system. Their players get hurt? Meh. Make a trade and they are back in the swing of things. The Cardinals are a prototypical championship baseball franchise, and we should all thank them for that.